An Earth Day Call for Nuclear Disarmament

by Christy Yao

There are about 300,000 nuclear weapons worldwide, with 95% being owned by the US and Russia. There is additional unrefined nuclear material to make 100,000 more. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was powerful enough to kill 300,000 human beings and nuclear weapons have only gotten stronger since then. North Korea recently tested a bomb that could kill up to an estimated 900,000 people.

There are three main effects of nuclear detonation: the blast wave, high heat, and radiation. The blast wave is so intense that it would flatten entire cities. The heat is high enough that it would start fires and burn skin. The radiation, which is in some ways the most terrifying of the effects because it is something that can’t be seen or felt, would immediately kill those around it and put those farther away at an increased risk of cancer and other health problems. A Lifespan Study of 120,000 atomic bomb survivors showed an increased risk of cataracts, thyroid diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and psychological effects.

Additionally, following the detonation of the bomb there would be what is called a “nuclear fallout.” This refers to the radioactive particles that are in the bomb’s mushroom cloud. These particles would fall out of a small bomb’s cloud in 1-2 hours, and a large bomb’s cloud in several days. Anywhere downwind could receive nuclear particles. This fallout material would enter the food chain, putting countless people at risk for consuming them.

These initial effects on humanity would be catastrophic but there is also another concern — scientists have warned that nuclear weapons are one of the biggest threats to the planet. A small-scale nuclear war would hurt the climate and ecosystems for more than a decade. The Ozone would be depleted by 40% in many populated areas, and by 70% at the poles. In 1983, Carl Sagan coined the term “nuclear winter," referring to the environmental changes that would happen following a nuclear war. Detonating between 50-100 bombs, about 0.03% of the world’s arsenal, would create more climate disruption than anything else in human history. The crisis would be bigger than global warming or anything we have seen before. Tens of millions of people would die as a result. Temperatures would decrease by 1.25 degrees Celsius, the largest climate change in human history. Most of the world would not be able to grow crops for five years due to a lack of rain and sunlight.

On Earth Day and every day, it is important to realize the devastating effects a nuclear war would have on humanity and the environment. The world would not be the same ever again. Many lives would be lost, both directly and indirectly. We cannot let this happen.

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